City Controller Launches Audit of HPD Taser Use

After more than a thousand Taser deployments by Houston Police officers over the past two-and-a-half years, the city's controllers office says it will audit the department's Taser program. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, the performance review will focus on, among other things, who the Tasers are being used on and why.

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Controller Annise Parker says the audit will include three components, contract compliance, statistical analysis and an inside look at the department's Taser policy and training. She says there have been calls for an audit nearly from the start when HPD began using Tasers in December of 2004. Now there are more than 3,500 Tasers carried by HPD officers.

"You have to understand that there are major performance audits like this one and there are also routine audits and what we expect to find in a routine audit is that the departments are doing their job and they're doing it in a good way. When we do a major performance audit like this it's because we or mayor and council have a concern about something that would prompt further investigation."

Houston Police Department Executive Assistant Chief Charles McClelland says he looks at the audit as more of a review that could produce constructive ways to make the Taser policy more effective.

"They may refer to it as an audit but it's actually independent research where they're going to be looking at a lot of data, a lot of statistical information, how we purchase the devises, how we store them. It's a complete review of the entire Taser program and that's what we want."

The University of Houston's Center For Public Policy will review statistical data from Taser deployments as part of the audit. Center director Jim Granato says researchers will use statistical controls to extract key bits of information about Taser use.

"Has the level of reports for bodily injury to people gone down? That's one thing we can look at. Another thing is for the same set of circumstances, is race a deciding factor whether or not you're going to be Tased? So for example a person that is Asian is combative, does things that threatens an officer's person. Is there a lower proportion or a higher proportion for that person to be Tased as opposed to a black person or a white person?"

Houston city councilwoman Ada Edwards is one of several city leaders who have had concerns about the police department's use of Tasers. She says the audit is a good first step toward figuring out if they're being used properly.

"Hopefully it will give us some insight as to what policies are regarding Taser use and once again the issue of if they are effective, if they're being used for compliance or if they're used in lieu of deadly force. Questions like those hopefully will be answered."

The audit could take several months to complete and will include input from a local audit firm, the University of Houston Center For Public Policy and researchers at Sam Houston State University. The review is expected to cost $140,000. The results will be presented to city council sometime this summer.

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